Saddle Up: One for the purists

February, 27, 2012
2/27/12
4:30
PM ET
Saddle Up is our semi-daily preview of the night's best basketball action. Just one game to really peek in on here.

No. 19 Notre Dame at No. 12 Georgetown, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN3: Neither team can win the Big East, or even grab a share of it. Neither team is in any danger of missing the NCAA tournament. Neither team is facing some existential crisis, or some recent spate of deficiency, from which it needs to emerge.

So what, exactly, is on the line Monday night? Come to think of it, not all that much. Whatever happens, Georgetown will finish about where it is currently slotted to finish in the Big East. Notre Dame's run of nine Big East wins came to an end 61-58 at St. John's on Saturday; the powers of ND's magical hot tub finally ran their course, as all great hot tub superstitions must.

But that doesn't mean this game isn't going to be pretty great. It just depends on what you're looking for. If you're looking for bubble intrigue and tight conference title races, this is not the featured event for you. But if you're interested in watching two very good basketball teams clash strengths on a late-February Monday night, it's hard to do much better than this.

What do I mean? I mean this: Since its upset streak-spawning Jan. 21 win against Syracuse, Notre Dame's offense morphed into one of the Big East's -- and at times one of the nation's -- best. The Irish's sudden uptick in 3-point field goal percentage transformed what in November and December (and even January) looked like a confused group with no stars into a team that actually benefits from those traits -- a balanced, unselfish unit that doesn't have any one key player defenses can stop. As his teammates have knocked down outside looks, ND forward Jack Cooley has himself morphed into one of the nation's best offensive rebounders, and one of its more efficient interior players. The Irish are OK on defense, but they've been great on offense.

Which sounds almost exactly the opposite of how you would describe the Georgetown Hoyas. Georgetown's precision Princeton attack has been impressive to watch since the Maui Invitational -- the notion of using the Princeton offense with the talents of pass-first center Henry Sims and versatile players like Hollis Thompson and Otto Porter has to make every Princeton-derived coach in the country swoon in envy -- but where Georgetown has truly excelled this season is on the defensive end. The Hoyas rank No. 1 in Big East play in adjusted defensive efficiency, a true feat considering Georgetown plies its trade in the same conference as the uber-athletic members of Syracuse's 2-3 zone.

There will be good hoops all over the floor Monday night, but the best part will be watching the Irish, who have had their fair share of good bounces to go along with their massive improvement, try to solve the riddle that is Georgetown's defense. Both coaches will be conducting affairs from the sidelines, adjusting and readjusting in a subtle X's and O's orchestra. It might not feature much pace, and it might not matter in the standings or Bracketology, but oh well. It's going to be a good basketball game, and that's more than enough for me.

Everywhere else: Kansas goes to Oklahoma State just two days after Saturday's emotional win against Missouri; the good news is the Jayhawks have already sealed at least a share of the Big 12 title. ... Meanwhile, Texas Tech travels to Waco for what should (repeat: should) be a ritual whooping. ... And then there are a bunch of other games you probably aren't going to watch. It's the calm before the conference tourney storm. Soak it in while you still can.

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